Cricket World Cup coming to New York’s suburbs where sport thrives among immigrants

Cricket World Cup coming to New York’s suburbs where sport thrives among immigrants
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Men watch television screens as they wait to see the appearance of the jailed Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, expected to be streamed live during a video proceeding of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, at a market in Peshawar, Pakistan May 16, 2024. (AFP)
Cricket World Cup coming to New York’s suburbs where sport thrives among immigrants
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Pedestrians move past the construction site as work continues on the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium at Eisenhower Park on April 22, 2024 in East Meadow, New York. (AFP)
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Updated 16 May 2024
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Cricket World Cup coming to New York’s suburbs where sport thrives among immigrants

Cricket World Cup coming to New York’s suburbs where sport thrives among immigrants
  • T20 World Cup in June will be first major international cricket tournament in United States 
  • At first a popular sport in United States of America, cricket largely disappeared after World War I 

EAST MEADOW, N.Y.: A towering stadium boasting 34,000 seats and a precisely trimmed field of soft Kentucky bluegrass is rising in a suburban New York park that will host one of the world’s top cricket tournaments next month.

But on a recent Saturday morning, on the other side of Long Island’s Eisenhower Park, budding young cricketers were already busy batting, bowling and fielding on a makeshift pitch.

The T20 World Cup will be the first major international cricket competition in the US, but the centuries-old English game has been flourishing in the far-flung corners of metro New York for years, fueled by steady waves of South Asian and Caribbean immigration. 

Each spring, parks from the Bronx and Queens to Long Island and New Jersey come alive with recreational leagues hosting weekend competitions.

American cricket organizers hope the June competition will take the sport’s popularity to the next level, providing the kind of lasting boost across generations and cultures that soccer enjoyed when the US hosted its first FIFA World Cup in 1994. 

On Wednesday, retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, an honorary ambassador of the T20 World Cup, visited the nearly complete Eisenhower stadium, along with members of the US cricket squad and former New York football and basketball greats.

Parmanand Sarju, founder of the Long Island Youth Cricket Academy that hosted Saturday’s practice, said he’s “beyond joyful” to see the new stadium rising atop the ball field where his youth academy began, a sign of how far things have come.

“When we started more than a decade ago, there was no understanding of cricket, at least at the youth level,” said the Merrick resident, who started the academy to teach his two American-born children the sport he grew up playing in Guyana in South America. “Now they’re building a stadium here.”

The sport originally took root in the outer boroughs of New York City but has gradually spread as immigrant families, like generations before, moved to the suburbs, transforming communities, said Ahmad Chohan, a Pakistan native who is the president of the New York Police Department’s cricket club, which also plays in Eisenhower as part of a statewide league with roughly 70 teams.

The World Cup, he said, is a “historic moment.”

Cricket is the second most-viewed sport in the world after soccer — India star Virat Kohli has 268 million Instagram followers — but it is only played by more than 200,000 Americans nationwide across more than 400 local leagues, according to USA Cricket, which oversees the men’s national cricket team.

Major League Cricket launched last year in the US with six professional T20 teams, including a New York franchise that, for now, plays some games at a Dallas-area stadium also hosting World Cup matches.

Venu Pisike, the chairman of USA Cricket, believes the T20 World Cup — the first time the US has competed in the tournament — will mark a turning point.

The sport is among those slated for the 2028 summer Olympics in Los Angeles — its first appearance at the games in more than a century, he noted. The International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body, has also committed to growing the US market.

“Cricket is predominantly viewed as an expat sport, but things will look very different in the next 10, 20 years,” said Pisike. “Americans will definitely change their mindset and approach in terms of developing cricket.”

Both the Los Angeles games and the upcoming World Cup, which the US is co-hosting with the West Indies, will feature a modern variant of the game known as “Twenty20” that lasts around three hours and is highlighted by aggressive batters swinging away for homerun-like “sixes.” 

It’s considered more approachable to casual fans than traditional formats, which can last one to five days when batters typically take a more cautious approach. Twenty20 is the format used in the hugely popular Indian Premier League.

Eisenhower Park will host half the games played in the US, including a headlining clash of cricket titans Pakistan and India on June 9.

Other matches in the 55-game, 20-nation tournament that kicks off June 1 will be played on existing cricket fields in Texas and Florida. Later rounds take place in Antigua, Trinidad and other Caribbean nations, with the final in Barbados on June 29.

Cricket has a long history in the US and New York, in particular.

The sport was played by American troops during the Revolutionary War, and the first international match was held in Manhattan between the city’s St. George’s Cricket Club and Canada in 1844, according to Stephen Holroyd, a Philadelphia-area cricket historian.

As late as 1855, New York newspapers were still devoting more coverage to cricket than baseball, but the sport remained stubbornly insular, with British-only cricket clubs hindering its growth just as baseball was taking off, he said.

By the end of World War I, cricket had largely disappeared — until immigrants from India and other former British colonies helped revive it roughly half a century later.

Anubhav Chopra, a co-founder of the Long Island Premier League, a nearly 15-year-old men’s league that plays in another local park, is among the more than 700,000 Indian Americans in the New York City area — by far the largest community of its kind in the country.

The Babylon resident has never been to a professional cricket match but has tried to share his love for the game he played growing up in New Delhi with his three American children, including his 9-year-old son who takes cricket lessons.

Chopra bought tickets to all nine games taking place at Eisenhower and is taking his wife, kids and grandparents to the June 3 match between Sri Lanka and South Africa.

“For me, cricket is life,” he said. “This as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The dense latticework of metal rods and wood sheets that make up Eisenhower’s modular stadium will come down soon after the cup games end, but the cricket field will remain, minus the rectangular surface in the middle known as the pitch.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said what’s left lays a “world-class” foundation for local cricket teams — and perhaps a future home for a professional team.


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.


FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
Updated 17 July 2024
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FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
  • The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults

PARIS: FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
“FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into,” a spokesperson for world football’s governing body said.
They added: “FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials.”
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologized and the club said in a statement it had launched an “internal disciplinary procedure.”
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behavior completely unacceptable,” it added.
“We acknowledge and appreciate our player’s public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate.”
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: “The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
“I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologize for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations.”
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo “condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team.”
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.


Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
Updated 17 July 2024
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Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
  • Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory
  • His Palestinian heritage serves as a profound source of motivation and pride ‘that means everything to me’

Riyadh: In the lead-up to UFC 304, slated for July 27 in Manchester, UK, Belal Muhammad, the formidable Palestinian-American welterweight contender, has honing his skills with a series  of rigorous training camps which have inluded sessions with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Mackachev in Dagestan.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, the 36-year-old reflected on his preparations and the profound significance of his upcoming bout against champion Leon Edwards.

“My training camp has been very good,” Muhammad said, detailing the final stages of his preparation. “It’s about being safe, staying uninjured, and making it to the fight week. It’s been a hard camp, but I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I can’t wait to get to Manchester and fight,” he added with palpable enthusiasm.

Ranked second in the welterweight division, Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory. “This is everything,” he stressed. “When I got into the UFC, all I wanted was to be the champion. Now, I see the finish line. I’m knocking on the door. All I’ve got to do is walk through it.”

Acknowledging the competitive landscape of the welterweight division, Muhammad assessed his opponents with a keen eye. “I see weaknesses in a lot of these guys,” he said. “I don’t think there are going to be easy fights, but looking at this division, Leon (Edwards) is my easiest fight,” he added.

Muhammad’s journey in mixed martial arts is deeply intertwined with his Palestinian heritage, which he views as a source of profound motivation and pride. “That means everything to me,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I’m fighting for something bigger — to have my flag raised with the title, to give my people a voice.”

He highlighted the resilience and determination of his Palestinian community as a driving force in his career. “I can’t sleep. I can’t take any days off. I can’t be soft, because these people are hard. These people are so resilient. They push me every day to work harder. I’ve never seen a stronger people in my life.”

Addressing his Palestinian fans directly, Muhammad expressed solidarity and admiration. “Keep fighting. Keep staying strong. Keep being resilient because you’re changing the world,” he said, stressing the inspiration he draws from their unwavering support.

With the recent surge of MMA interest in the Middle East, Muhammad praised the region’s growing prominence in the sport. “It’s amazing to see the Middle East becoming a huge market for fighters and the UFC,” he said. “When you look at Arabs and Muslims, we’re not the tallest we’re not the biggest so you’re not gonna see a lot of us in the NBA. But now we have a different sport that we can take over. We can all be fighters,” he added optimistically, envisioning a future where Arab fighters continue to make significant strides in the sport.

Reflecting on his career’s evolution, Muhammad emphasized the lessons learned from both victories and setbacks. “I’ve had the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he said. “After every fight, I analyze what I did wrong. I train year-round to be a better fighter,” he added, attributing his continuous growth to a relentless pursuit of improvement.

Muhammad started his MMA journey at 23, unlike many fighters who start at a much younger age, a factor that has always played on his mind as he trains, he said.

“I really think I’m behind a lot of these guys. So I’ve always had that mentality that I’m behind and have to keep learning, growing, and getting better. And I think that’s what separates me from the rest. Every single fight, I come as a different fighter.”

Maintaining mental focus and motivation amid the stakes of UFC 304, Muhammad revealed a deeply personal motivation. “I love to win and I hate to lose,” he admitted. “I never want to see my mom disappointed in me. I keep winning so she keeps a smile on her face,” he added, highlighting the familial support that fuels his drive.

As the countdown to UFC 304 progresses, Muhammad stands poised to seize the welterweight crown, driven by skill, dedication, and a steadfast commitment to his goals. With Manchester on the horizon, Muhammad’s journey to championship glory promises to captivate fans worldwide and inspire a new generation of fighters from the Middle East and beyond.


‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
Updated 17 July 2024
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‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
  • 3 tournaments taking centerstage at Boulevard Riyadh City with high-stakes drama in store until Sunday  

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup has three major competitions taking place this week at Boulevard Riyadh City, promising further entertainment after a fortnight of action.

Running for eight weeks until Aug. 25, the Esports World Cup has a record-breaking $60 million prize pool on offer across 22 competitions and 21 games.

Sixteen clubs are vying to reach the latter stages of the $5 million “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” with hometown heroes Team Falcons flying the flag for Saudi Arabia.

Having topped the Group A standings with four wins and two draws from seven matches, Team Falcons have emerged as top contenders for the $1.5 million first prize and are certain to receive incredible home support this week.

Also, two other tournaments make their highly anticipated Esports World Cup debuts. The $1 million “Counter-Strike 2” competition will see some of the world’s best clubs competing.

Working together in five-versus-five format, players must display exemplary tactics to eliminate opponents and reign supreme in this ultra-realistic team-based shooter game.

Also sharing the spotlight is “PUBG Mobile,” with 24 teams battling for the $3 million prize on Friday.


Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
Updated 17 July 2024
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Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
  • The Saudi Arabia team have already claimed top places in the ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Free Fire’ competitions

RIYADH: Team Falcons remain on course for a historic hat trick of Esports World Cup titles after the hometown heroes reached the semifinals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” competition on Tuesday.

One of the front-runners for the $1.5 million first prize, the Saudi Arabia club entered the knockout stages in scintillating form, topping Group A with four wins and two draws.

This form continued with the support of a capacity crowd inside the SEF Arena.

A 2-1 victory against China’s WBG.XG set up a semifinal showdown with Canadian outfit Gaimin Gladiators.

This moves Team Falcons closer to their dream of winning the competition and adding to Esports World Cup victories in “Call of Duty: Warzone” and “Free Fire.”

The “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” is running throughout week three at the Esports World Cup, concluding on Sunday, July 23.